South Australia’s Liberal opposition party has laid its energy policy cards on the table ahead of the up-coming state poll, including the promise to create a $100 million household battery fund – and $200 million to fast-track a new interconnector to NSW – if elected in March.
Opposition leader Steven Marshall said the battery fund would provide means-tested grants averaging $2,500 to help up to 40,000 homes buy and install battery storage, the cost of which remains out of reach for most households – although that is rapidly changing.
The Liberal party plan offers the latest illustration that energy has become the defining issue in both state and federal politics, as parties grab for votes by promising to rein in soaring electricity prices.
Marshall said helping SA households to install battery storage – a technology Marshall said had been “left alone” by the Weatherill government – was aimed at increasing the return on investment many South Australian households had already made by installing rooftop solar.
“Plenty of people have invested in solar on their roofs,” Marshall said. “What we don’t have is the ability for most people to access adequate storage to be able to use that energy when they need it.
“We want to create that storage opportunity for them in their households, but we also think this can create some opportunities down the track for the producers to be storing that energy and pushing it into the grid when the prices are high across South Australia.
“That will increase the return on the investment they have made,” he said.
The means-tested plan may be welcomed by Australia’s energy storage sector, which is preparing for a much-forecast boom in home and business battery installations that is expected to gather pace over the coming couple of years.
South Australia is already at the centre of several significant storage projects, including the Tesla “big battery”, the 30MW/8MWh installation planned for the Wattle Point wind farm, the AGL “virtual power plant”, a similar trial by SA Power Networks, a limited support scheme from the Adelaide Council supported by the state government, and any number of battery storage projects in the pipeline.
The Weatherill government has endured sustained attacks from both the state Coalition and the federal LNP for its strong support for renewable energy generation, the “reckless pursuit” of which the Turnbull government has sought to blame for the entire nation’s power price woes.
For his part, Marshall is sticking to the federal Coalition script in the lead-up to the March 2018 election, and said that while supporting storage, there would be no further pursuit of a state renewables policy, although that seems all but redundant since S.A. has already reached its 50 per cent renewable share.
As well as the battery subsidisation fund, SA Liberal has promised to establish a $200 million interconnection fund, giving the installation of a new cable connecting SA to NSW top priority.
Marshall also said a Liberal government would keep up the state Labor government’s lease of nine diesel generators to provide backup capacity and prevent blackouts over the next two summers.
It would not, he added, proceed with an option to purchase the generators, but would instead pay operators of private generators to provide backup capacity.